February 10, 2012

Get Ready, Set, TONE!

NOTE: This post has been revised slightly since publication. Images and formatting have been updated.
The mid-January air clawed at her cheeks as she wandered through the woods, not knowing where she was or where she was going. Her feet were numb from the white snow that devoured the land, and her breath came out in thick clouds. A cap of snow blossomed atop her head; cold flakes tangled in her dark hair and stuck on her curled lashes. 
Everywhere she looked she could see snow. The trees were white from root to branch, and gray cotton smothered the sky above. 
Maybe she got away, was her only thought as her frozen fingers clutched her winter coat. Her heart pounded against her shivering chest, and her teeth chattered from both the frigid weather and fright.
Why was he trying to kill her? She didn’t do anything! 
Exhausted from escaping near death, she laid her back against the trunk of a nearly-invisible tree and closed her eyes to catch her breath, which was becoming more and more labored, as if icicles dangled inside her lungs. 
Then a gloved hand slammed over her mouth.  

Two other factors that create story are setting and tone.


The setting can be any place imaginable such as New York City, China, or even Mars. But who says the setting has to be real? You can create your own town or a whole new world!

The setting can be a school (Harry Potter) or a hotel (The Shining). Some settings may include a date (for a historical novel) or a season. A romance novel can be set in July for a sweet and steamy summer romance, while a horror novel can be set in January for a scary and chilling read.

My short teaser in the beginning of this blog is set in the woods in the middle of January during a snow and ice storm.

For a new world, what do the residents look like? What makes them unique? What do their homes and cities look like? What are their jobs? What makes the world different from Earth? Give your character’s strange names and create new plants and animals. Even food. Then share these details slowly throughout the first several chapters.


The tone of a book is how you write (how the author feels). The tone for my teaser could be considered urgent and frightened.

While tone can come naturally as you write, other examples of tone are: humorous, serious, mournful, happy, guilty, and condescending.

Tone can also change throughout the story, much like our tones (aka attitudes) can change throughout the day.

Make the tone for each scene or chapter easily felt and identifiable. Give clues as to what the tone is with your character’s inner dialogue and physical reactions and how you interpret everything that’s happening.

A romantic tone can be light. You’d use bubbly or passionate words to achieve this. And you’d make it clear that your character is happy. Possibly in love. These scenes will ooze warmth.

A suspenseful tone can be heavy. You’d use dark words and shorter sentences to accomplish this feeling. You’d show your character in action and even fearful. These scenes will make readers sit on the edge of their seats.

Now get ready, set, TONE!

QUESTION: Do you gravitate toward books with a specific setting/tone?

I like books set in the winter season, and stories with dark tones.


  1. Amazing writing! I want to know what happens next in your teaser!!

    I am guilty of liking books with scary/mysterious tones. I'm a sucker for horror in all it's shapes and forms.

  2. Interesting post! When I write, the first page is always the slowest (it can take hours and hours) because its construction is about finding and establishing a tone that will shape the rest of the story.

    When I'm choosing a book, I don't necessarily gravitate toward a given type of tone, but to competence in tone. Any author who can sweep me into their chosen mood and atmosphere seems like someone I can trust to provide a worth-while read.

  3. Thank you, Anna! What is interesting when I write is that the tone comes naturally. I don't even realize that I'm creating it, but writing is different for everyone.

    That was a great answer! You said it perfectly. I am the same way when I am reading a book. Even though I gravitate toward darker tones, I like to read any type of book that has the power to pull me in.